The Endless (2017)

MAY 2, 2018


If you read my book (hint hint) you'll recall that the first movie in each chapter is representative of that month's particular sub-genre; the idea being that if you were to just watch those twelve movies (having not heard of them before, or at least never inclined to watch) you'd hopefully agree the book would have been worth your time/money. Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson's Resolution got that "coveted" slot for its month (October, which was "horror-adjacent" films), and I was just as big of a fan of their followup, Spring, so it's fair to say I was quite excited for their newest film, The Endless, which has been playing in limited release for a couple weeks now. Alas I only just now found time to go see it, at the non-ideal time of 10pm on a weeknight, i.e. practically a guarantee I'd fall asleep especially considering its 110+ minute runtime - but I stayed awake!

I mean I could just end the review right there; longtime readers shouldn't need to be sold any further on the film's merits ("If Collins stayed awake, this must be worth checking out!"), but for you new readers I guess I'll do my due diligence and get into things like "plot" and "characters". Ya jerks.

I didn't know much about the film beforehand, only that it had something to do with a cult and that it featured Benson and Moorhead in the lead roles, playing their cult characters from Resolution (if you haven't seen that one, I assure you it's not 100% essential, though it will give you a little more context and appreciation for at least one development later in this film). We only met them briefly in Resolution, giving a low-key pitch for their cult to that film's hero Mike, but when we pick up with them here they've left the cult and are trying to adjust to a normal life in Los Angeles, working as housekeepers and trying to keep the bills paid. When Aaron (they use their real first names, though they play brothers, hopefully keeping the idea that they're "playing themselves" at bay) receives a tape in the mail from one of his old "commune" friends, he goads Justin to paying them a visit and see how they're doing.

One might find this a rather ludicrous idea, but it actually works. The hook is that Justin was the one who really wanted to leave and kind of dragged his brother away from a life that almost kind of suited him, and since their outside life is shit there isn't much of an argument he can make for it besides "out here things might get better". Justin finally agrees to go more or less hoping Aaron, now older, will see it for the joke that it is (or that it's just too weird) and finally let go of it so he can blossom in the real world, but obviously things don't go as planned. Aaron starts getting easily swayed back into the fold (having Callie Hernandez instigating things probably doesn't hurt; I'd follow her into a cult sight unseen, let alone one I already had a connection to) while Justin becomes increasingly aware that things there can't be easily explained away by "they're crazy/brainwashed".

I won't say much more about what happens, only that it's very much in line with the unique brand of unsettling but also occasionally funny sort of things that peppered Resolution (so, if you hated that movie, I'd steer clear of this one, but know that I pity you). Again, seeing the earlier film isn't a necessity, but since Aaron and Justin were clearly in the same area as that film's Mike and Chris, it's a foregone conclusion that they'd be plagued by some of the same phenomena, some of which sheds light on the other film's mysteries. Not everything is explained (from either film), but again it doesn't matter - the real drive of the film is seeing these two guys work through their issues with each other and hopefully come out of the situation OK. The two filmmakers have been working together for almost a decade (more? I'm just going off IMDb's historical record) and their brotherly bond comes across throughout the film, and so it's easy to not worry too much about how the tape got sent to them or what that one weird thing we saw was and focus more on their current dilemma, hoping they can escape together or at least find their peace if they do end up going their separate ways. Unlike Resolution, the other characters we meet get fleshed out a bit, becoming people that could be in their own spinoff film (the Resolution Cinematic Universe?). In that film everyone that wasn't Mike or Chris only really appeared once, if memory serves, but here we get to know a few of the cult members and learn a little bit about their deal. I was particularly intrigued with Hal (Tate Ellington), the leader of the group who is patient with Justin's eye-rolling and, at times, almost seems a bit jealous of his ability to walk away from it all. I don't know if it was intentional or just me reading into it, but I kept getting the impression he was about five seconds from asking Justin if he could hitch a ride with them when they left, only to refrain out of some kind of guilt (for the other people) or fear, akin to convicts fearing their parole. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that they aren't just weirdos in the woods and that there is something definitely supernatural/otherworldly going on, and that also adds another layer to it - it's not that he's afraid he's wrong, it's that he's afraid because he knows he's right.

It helps that there's nothing outwardly evil about the cult. Justin says they castrate members, but this turns out to be a lie he told just to get Aaron to leave with him. They're not branded (so it's better than the one Chloe from Smallville ran!) or anything like that - they just live out in the woods, making beer, and have a few unusual rituals. Ultimately it's not really ABOUT the cult, but I think it really works in the film's favor that an audience member watching could kind of see the appeal (whereas if you're watching, say, The Sacrament, and thinking it's a good deal - seek help). My position on all religions - even Scientology to a degree - is that as long as you're not harming anyone, you should always go with the one that gives you the peace you seek, and who cares if it may look/sound weird to an "outsider"? By refraining from any kind of "drink the Kool-aid" kind of insanity, there's no real reason to look down on Aaron for wanting to stay behind; we only fear for his wellbeing due to the strange things that are in the area, independent of the group.

Speaking of fear, overall this is even less of a traditional horror film than their others; if not for the "sequel" status for a previously reviewed film I probably wouldn't count it as one at all, really. It's got a couple of jolts and some undeniably creepy moments (the guy in the tent, gah!), but when compared to cult-based horror like Race with the Devil or Starry Eyes it's closer to drama territory. Perhaps that's due to the fact it's twenty minutes longer than its predecessor but has about the same number of incidents, so they're just more spread out? It's not a mark against the film at all - I gave it 4 stars on Letterboxd, if that helps - but if you thought Resolution had no business in the horror section and were "let down" because of it, then it's probably best to skip this one.

Everyone else, enjoy! It's doing really well in limited release, so hopefully it'll lead to something bigger for the pair next time out. There are a couple instances in the film where the small budget was taking a toll on its visuals; nothing that should lessen your enjoyment or anything (I've seen worse in movies that cost literally 100x as much), but it got me wondering what they might do with a bigger budget - just not one that was so big they'd have to lose their voice in the process. Maybe a Blumhouse "Tilt" joint or something along those lines? But even if they shoot movies on their phone in their own homes I'm sure they will be interesting and worth checking out - they're three for three in my book, which is kind of extraordinary nowadays as I've seen so many filmmakers (particularly filmmaking teams) impress with their first film and never measure up again (cough, Bustillo/Maury, cough). Good job, gents.

What say you?


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